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Lib Dems pledge radical scheme to help rural and remote communities retain lifeline services

By Scott Maclennan

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Liberal Democrat candidate Molly Nolan.
Liberal Democrat candidate Molly Nolan.

The Liberal Democrats have proposed a radical plan aimed at securing lifeline services like banks, post offices and pubs.

Today the party will put forward plans in its manifesto that aim to stem the tide of closures that have blighted many Highland communities.

Chief among the proposals that will be announced on Friday will be to create a rapid-reaction service that brings together public agencies to explore how community assets can be saved.

They would also establish a right for communities to protect threatened facilities through different ownership or the use of shared premises.

On the ground, the Lib Dems say that would translate into potential facilities such as hubs with community groups given a fair chance to purchase or acquire these assets.

Since 2015, banks have closed branches in Dornoch, Lairg, Helmsdale, Brora, Bonar Bridge, Tongue and Lochinver along with others in Wick, Dingwall and Beauly – some areas also lost their post offices.

Caithness, Sutherland and Ross Liberal Democrat candidate Molly Nolan said the experience of the far north had directly led to the new policy while the Scottish Government has "stood idly by".

“Time and again we see the ways in which rural and remote communities in the north Highlands have been left behind by an out-of-touch Scottish Government," she said.

“Much of our party manifesto – from health services to transport – is directly influenced by our experiences of fighting centralisation in places like Caithness, Sutherland and Ross.

“Countless bank closures over the last few years have had a devastating impact on communities across the Highlands and Islands, isolating people reliant on cash for their ability to go about their daily lives.

“As we build back from the pandemic, we cannot go back to the old normal. Scottish Liberal Democrats will therefore fight to ensure public agencies work with big banks to invest in shared service hubs so every community has access to the services they need.”

The SNP’s far north candidate Maree Todd hit back, saying that Westminster and the former Conservative-Liberal Democrat government was partly to blame for the situation after selling off the Post Office while the Tories were guilty of "underfunding and restructuring" Royal Mail.

“As MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, I will fight for localised services. It’s critical that people throughout this vast and rural constituency can access public services from healthcare to local amenities such as banks and post offices," she said.

“The SNP is committed to building vibrant communities. We are already taking bold steps to support the idea of '20 minute neighbourhoods'’ where people can meet their needs within a 20-minute walk from their house.

“This will require a power of work in rural areas such as those in Caithness, Sutherland and Ross but will be truly transformative.

“We know our High Streets have been hit hard by the pandemic. If the SNP returns to government, we will spend £275 million over the next five years on community regeneration to help revitalise our town centres.”

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